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My experience of bipolar disorder and being sectioned

Thursday, 24 March 2016 Jonny

In part one of his blog, Jonny talks about his experience of bipolar disorder and being sectioned.

My name is Jonny and I am a musician, a father, a teacher, a friend, a son and I have bipolar. My condition can be debilitating and frightening, especially for those that love me and care about me. It has resulted in my being sectioned on three occasions. The third time was a career threatening, terrifying experience and my steady demise became very clear to my friends and colleagues on Twitter and Facebook. I went from playing in West End Shows, orchestras, teaching, making music and playing live TV shows to picking up dog-ends and being on benefits. It was an 18-month rollercoaster ride.

However, I have learned to live with bipolar, manage it, spot the signs when I am becoming accelerated or heading towards a depression and do something about it. 


“I’ll be right out,” I said. There was a taxi waiting to take me to the radio station. Everything was set. A Mexican guitarist had come from Austria to play live in the studio with us. I was massively excited. I had already done one interview with the radio station and now I wanted to tell them so much more about all the ideas I had, all the schemes.There was only one problem. I was sectioned in a psychiatric hospital and not allowed to leave the ward. The taxi had to leave.

I had no money. In the two or three weeks before coming into hospital I had got to the point of picking up cigarette butts off the pavement outside bars. I had spent everything I had. I remember at one point becoming convinced that I was being followed by special-forces agents and going into a Knightsbridge clothes shop to buy new clothes and bin the ones I had been wearing. Irresponsible spending is, for me, a major warning sign that I may be heading toward a bipolar episode or that I am ‘going high’.

Anyway, back to the story. I was furious. I swore at the nursing staff. I wanted to go and do the interview and play on the radio station. This part was not in my head. They were expecting me. My classical music ensemble, the Santiago Quartet’s first album had gone well and started to sell and I got ill just at the wrong time, leaving a lot of wreckage around me, again!

I had become obsessed with making a second album before anything had been planned and nobody knew what was going to be on it, not even me. I almost forgot that I was a father. I was in a psychiatric hospital convinced that I was in the process of making an album and that the consulting room was a recording studio. On other occasions I thought that I was Donnie Brasco from a movie that I had become obsessed with.

"People react to you in very different ways when they know that you are living with or have lived with mental illness."

Then I would take a big dose of medication and get involved in the merry-go-round of a day under section; lots of walking around in circles trying to get cigarettes, lots of trying to keep hold of my own cigarettes, lots of lies and blaming staff. Tears, people screaming at me, swearing at me. We were all so unwell and had been removed from society. We needed to be and I couldn’t believe it had happened to me again. Fear, anger, bewilderment, rage, self-pity, self-loathing. I was full of all of them.

The other patients had lots of conspiracy theories. I lived for six weeks in a tragically under-staffed, extremely unhealthy environment with a major shortage of compassion. The guy who came over from Austria to play on the radio show turned out to be one of the kindest, most genuine and talented musicians that I have ever met. He ended up coming and jamming with me in a consulting room on the lockdown ward. My Mum has since described him as an angel of light in an extremely dark time.

People react to you in very different ways when they know that you are living with or have lived with mental illness. Some just want to deny it and talk about anything else. This is probably because they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say. Some are cruel and make fun of you and talk about you behind your back. But the majority of people are compassionate and want to help. This guy did what he knows. He came to see me, got his guitar out and we played some music. I played the cello quite a lot in hospital and have done on the other three occasions that I have been admitted. Music has always been curative for me, an escape from my own head and, as a youngster, from social awkwardness.

Read part two of Jonny's story here, looking at how music has helped him to stay well and his plans to raise money for Mind through Santiago Quartet

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